The Syrian leader asserts that extremists pushing a foreign agenda to destabilize Syria are behind the country’s unrest, rather than true reform seekers aiming to open the country’s autocratic political system. Sunday’s demonstrators accused Arab countries of being complicit with the purported conspiracy.
Iraq, which abstained from Saturday’s vote, warned the Arab League suspension could make matters worse.
“The suspension of Syria’s membership will deprive the Arab League of any communication channel with the Syrian government and this move does not serve the interests of the Syrian people,” Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.
Members of the Syrian opposition, meanwhile, rejoiced.
“This gives strong legitimacy to our cause,” Bassma Kodmani, a spokeswoman for the Syrian National Council, an opposition umbrella group, told The Associated Press. We consider this decision to be a victory for the Syrian revolution.”
Hours after the Arab League vote, however, pro-regime demonstrators in Syria assaulted the diplomatic offices of countries critical of the Syrian government, including break-ins at the Saudi and Qatari embassies and attacks at Turkish and French diplomatic posts across the country.
Syrian security forces confronted the attackers with batons and tear gas but were unable to stop a group from breaking into the Qatari embassy and replacing the Qatari flag with the Syrian banner. Others entered Saudi Arabia’s embassy compound, broke windows and ransacked some areas of Saudi Arabia’s embassy compound, the kingdom’s media reported.
Nobody was reported injured, but the embassy attacks were likely to stoke anger in Arab states against the regime in Damascus. Arab disapproval in itself may not seriously damage Assad’s hold on power, but if Syria further antagonizes Gulf states, it risks having them build up the Syrian opposition into a unified body that can win international recognition, as happened during Libya’s civil war this year.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry condemned the attack and said it held the Syrian authorities responsible for protecting its interests.
Protesters also attacked the Turkish Embassy in Damascus as well as consulates in the cities of Aleppo and Latakia, according to Turkey’s state-run Anatolia news agency. Turkey is not a member of the Arab League but has been sharply critical of Syria’s crackdown, and Turkey’s foreign minister welcomed the Arab League vote.
Turkey sent a plane to Damascus Sunday to evacuate diplomatic families as well as nonessential staff, Anatolia reported. The Foreign Ministry also summoned Syria’s charge d’affaires who was given a formal protest note demanding protection for its diplomatic missions.
France also said it had summoned Syria’s ambassador to “remind” him of Syria’s international obligations, after demonstrators tried to attack an honorary French consulate in Latakia and another French office in Aleppo.
On Sunday, hundreds of baton-carrying Syrian riot police in helmets ringed the U.S., Qatari, Saudi and Turkish embassies — all located in the capital’s upscale Abu Rummaneh district. Three fire trucks were parked in front of the Turkish Embassy. The Turkish and Qatari embassies were closed for the day but the Saudi Embassy was operating, an operator said.